Sunday, January 25, 2015
The Guest As God
The guest as God[ess]
So goes the credo in India, and I have to say that for whatever harshness or inconvenience traveling to the great Mother may invariably include, this is always a sweetly welcomed constant. Without fail, wherever I have roamed on this subcontinent, when I get where I’m going and many times along the way there too, I have been received with such warmth in the welcoming and sincerity in the attending that it manages to soften the edges and melt the daggers of even the craziest episodes.
I live much of my life in the world of guest as interruption, guest as intrusion, guest as yet another item on the overflowing to-do list that has to be checked off. In that world not speaking the language will get you glared at as incompetent. There you don’t often show up unannounced on someone’s doorstep or go out of your way to accompany someone on an errand run that more closely resembles a wild goose chase. You tend to yourself and expect that by and large others are doing the same. Independence and self-sufficiency are the credo. Most of the time in most circles anyway.
Not so here. As I sit writing, Vishnu, a nineteen-year-old attendant at the lush, idyllic Ayurvedic retreat I’m visiting, is waiting me on. He’s walking up the tree-lined path with an adorably bright smile on his mustached little face, carrying fresh coconuts for me to drink. Yes, that’s his job. But he does his job with such a sweetness and genuine appreciation for being of service that it lights a smile in me each and every time I see him. And I see him a lot! He manages to be everywhere, all the time, always available to any need or whim that may arise in each and every guest here. He takes his responsibility seriously, but not himself. He’s gracious and humble and seems so much older than his not quite two times ten turns around the sun.
And it isn’t just Vishnu. It’s Saraswati, Jendi, Asmin, Karnan, Kiran, Kanakaraj, Laksmi, Rao, Srinivas, and so many other aunties, uncles, guides, hosts, drivers, attendants and random angels encountered on trains, buses and sidewalks who live this credo of treating the guest as God. The very villagers who scrub the floors and prepare the meals at your guest house consider themselves honored and are so wholly delighted to have you pop into their home without warning, quickly offering up a plate of some tasty snack and introducing every member of their extended family to you, whether in-person or by photo. And never mind a language barrier. Smiles, laughter, hand gestures and a couple of key words are more than enough to feel the depth of emotion and grasp the gist of what’s being transmitted.
I’ve had strangers escort me through train stations to ensure I made it to the right platform. The same guy who had the grace to look away and leave me in silence while I vomited in our shared bunk on an overnight bus come morning was making certain I knew what stop to get off to make my way to my destination. Many others want a photo memory of me and taking them at their word, some of those photos now appear in frames and on altar spaces in more than one India home. I can’t begin to understand why that is, but we’ll leave that for another blog!
With this one what I hope to convey is the beauty that I encounter daily among the people here, and what it evokes in me. It raises ruminations on independence versus interdependence, what community truly means to me, the way in which I choose to receive and engage with the people around me. To integrate this credo of treating all of those around me as gods and goddesses, not just because it sounds quaint but because I truly recognize the divinity in each and every being is an ideal I wholly aspire to.
Being here also shows me how I still have so far to go. There are many miles yet to walk before my external eyes are able to truly glimpse that divine light shining in all beings. There are miles left to go in shedding my amazingly stubborn conditioning that taught me doing for myself was the best, and often expected, way to get things done. India is a phenomenal equalizer for that one! I simply cannot do everything by myself here. Moreover, I cannot do most things by myself here. I get to be a child again in so many ways, allowing myself to be led, taught, cared for, fed, even bathed and dressed in certain instances! It’s humbling and it’s also heart opening.
As my heart opens to receive these gracious offerings, my mind opens as well. It fills with colorful visions of interdependence as the pervading norm in all corners of the globe. But the globe is big and often I feel small. So I start small. I set intentions. Let my smile be so big and sincere as to brighten another’s day. Let me be the one to patiently and kindly offer directions to someone who is lost, literally or figuratively. Let me be fortunate enough to receive a knock at my door from an unexpected guest and welcome them with a tea or a treat or simply a moment of my uninterrupted, truly focused time. Let me feel gratitude and devotion for the work I am blessed to do, no matter how menial or exalted the task.
It isn’t that these intentions are new to me. It isn’t that all of India, or all Indians, are sunshine and rainbows while the U.S. is absent of any redeeming qualities or utterly amazing people. It’s not that black and white. And all of this is just my story anyway. So if it’s my story, let me tell it with authenticity. A big part of why I travel, and why I keep coming back to India even with so much of the world awaiting me, is because I feel authentic here and I am reminded of the story that is closest to my heart. When I am here, I remember. I remember who I am and what I know to be true. I remember why I have chosen this path and how it is guiding me toward living these intentions more and more with each step I take. I remember that I am not the only one who feels small sometimes, and that compassion is SO needed, just as needed as the reminder that great things come in small packages and can have a HUGE impact!
I hope you’ll remember with me, and I hope you’ll tell your own story with authenticity.